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Academic Parenting 101: parental leave erosion

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Academics are generally pretty lucky when it comes to parental leave- at least on paper. Many universities provide more leave than the minimum required by governments (so more than nothing in the US), yet there are several aspects of our careers that cause parental leave erosion. I should say from the outset that I had a generally supportive and positive experience while on leave last year, but I’ve also found several sources of leave erosion. *I acknowledge that there are many different types of parents taking parental leave, and I’m mainly drawing on my experience, or those of close friends in the field. I’d love to hear other experiences.

1. Pre-leave ‘make up’ work: This is a typical scenario: parents learn they are expecting, figure out when they are taking leave, and start working overtime to get ‘extra’ things done before the leave. In some ways this is understandable; it makes sense to want to wrap things up, tick things off a list etc before baby arrives. However, the idea that we need to work extra hard so that the parental leave doesn’t ‘put us behind’ or give some kind of disadvantage places unrealistic expectations on parents. Doing more work before your leave also means you (and your colleagues) treat your parental leave as a reshuffling of work, rather than time away from work. This kind of extra stress is the last thing that parents-to-be need, especially since pregnancy can be really terrible. You might be flat on your back trying to hold down any type of sustenance rather than writing your opus in the 8th month- and that’s ok. Parents don’t need to ‘earn’ their leave- and working extra, taking on extra roles etc before baby arrives means you donate time to the university and treat the arrival of the baby as the ‘finish line’ rather than the starting gate.

2. Parental leave free labor: I blame sabbaticals for this. While on sabbatical staff that are ‘away’ are still expected to respond to emails (even if it is slowly) and somewhat maintain their visibility and roles in the department. But parental leave is, and should be, different: parents take it because they have a new baby, not because they are focusing more of their attention to one aspect of their job. Also, most parental leave involves a pay reduction- so from a purely economic sense, parents are not getting paid to do their job anymore, they are paid to be parents, on leave. But that’s not reality. Most parents on leave end up responding to emails, doing copy edits on articles/books that are in the publication pipeline, writing reference letters, providing annual reports to funders, giving advice or feedback to grad students, and maybe even reviewing. These are tasks that one is almost obliged to do in order to sustain a minimum lifeline as an academic, but it is UNPAID LABOR. (more…)

Why I Don’t Participate at Political Science Rumors

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Over the last week we’ve had an excellent post by Cynthia Weber on queer theory and the forms of academic disciplining and bullying that take place on the website Political Science Rumors, as well as a interesting (and surprisingly convincing) piece by Steve Saidman on why he participates on the website. At first thought, the question of whether to participate on PLSI rumors or not seems pretty simple to me. In fact, a better question might be, ‘why would anyone bother with such a largely negative shit-storm, make-you-feel-bad-about-humanity and the field zone?’ However, on second thought, there are a few specific reasons why I avoid the site:

1. I think I know who the average ‘user’ is, and I don’t think I have much to learn from them. With the exception of Steve Saidman and a few other visitors- who have a genuine intention of a positive exchange with others in the field- based on the types of comments I have read, I assume (like others) that the average poster on this site is an unemployed/underemployed graduate student from an elite university who is pissed off that people like me (with my ‘terrible pedigree’ and my poor choice of feminism as a ‘specialization’) have jobs and a voice in the field (cue the trash comments). Why would I want to listen to this cohort speculate on job candidates, or my work (or anything else)?

2. It sets low career goals. I know not everyone in political science dreams of contributing to world peace (more on this in a forthcoming post), but surely there is more to our careers than journal rankings and how we ‘rate’ against others? In the comments sections to Weber’s recent post, there is discussion about the damage we might do to students if we are not honest about their career prospects if they choose ‘sub-fields’ like queer theory. Obviously, most PhD students don’t want to end up unemployed, and providing realistic information about the job market is essential- but individuals should be encouraged to choose their research topics because they are interested in answering questions they deem important, or that will make some sort of contribution (the fact that it sounds corny to want to contribute positively to society/our field is depressing).

3. It is not an effective source of information. If you want to know who has been short listed for a job, where to publish an article, which university to go to for particular specializations etc THIS IS NOT THE BEST PLACE TO GET THE INFO.


Countdown to ISA: heal the world, make the ISA a better place

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

It’s that time of year again. IR freaks, geeks, superstars, and fans flock to the International Studies Association Annual Conference (except those wimps that avoid the cold Canadian destinations).

Over the next week I’m going to write a few short, fun posts as we countdown to the jet lag, red-eyed check in (red carpet arrival show), the boot camp style pre-ISA workshops (pre-show analysis), and our blogging reception on Thursday (the main event). The topic for today? 5 steps that would change your ISA world for the better…feel free to share your own healing steps!

1. Coffee. I’m serious, there are approximately 3000 academics and the coffee options are one jammed Starbucks, the stale tea-bag coffees in your room, or a snake line from 3 mysteriously placed coffee carafes throughout the hotel. Please ISA exec, I will pay $10 more in my fees if you provide coffee at all 8am panels. Doing so will also mean that people will actually attend the first panels ON TIME and stay awake. Everyone wins (except Starbucks). Oh, and please bring your reusable coffee cups people.
2. This one is going to be more controversial, but I’m going to just throw it out there: we need less panels. I don’t think the ISA needs to be exclusive or anything, but I think there is a conference ‘tail’ of about 20% of panels that are beyond non-cohesive, and/or end up with 3 presenters- or less- or no discussant at the last minute (we’ve all been on one). Cut the tail off. Are we really doing academics or grad students a favor by reassigning their paper to a panel that has nothing to do with their topic after the original panel dissolves (which happens all the time!)? Or by assigning a discussant a the last minute who has absolutely no expertise or knowledge of the majority of the topics on the panel? (more…)

8 Unanswered Political Questions from the Oscars

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

I know it has already been a week, but I’m still thinking about the Oscars. Not the fashion (boring!! predictable!!), or the hostess (boring!! predictable!!) or the winners (boring!! predictable!!), or the speeches (ok you get my point)- but rather a short list of questions I still need help with. Answers welcome.

1. Was bell hooks right? Was 12 Years a Slave “sentimental clap-trap” that “negated the female voice?” What were the politics of white washing, white guilt, and white erasure at the awards?

2. How the hell did Joaquin Phoenix NOT get nominated for ‘Her’ and how DID Leonardo DiCaprio get nominated for ‘WOWS’? Does this tell us anything about hegemonic masculinity….or more about pity for Leo?

3. Why were so many of the best pic nominations fixated on some distorted nostalgia (about slavery, HIV, they ‘golden era’ of American history/finance) and what does this tell us about our (in)ability to cope with the present?

4. Are strapless peplum dresses and backward necklaces ironic now?

5. If Mathhew Mcconaghey hadn’t lost weight, would we care about his performance? Would he have won the Oscar? As Ted Kerr noted in his excellent post 47 Things I Talk about When I talk about the Dallas Buyers Club, “It is interesting how Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto get rewarded for losing weight, and acting sick, while people living with HIV have to fight to be well, appear well and be recognized. #everydaysurvival” (more…)

How Do You Change a Policy That Doesn’t Exist?: the combat exclusion one year later






(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Despite numerous calls to ‘Let Women Fight’, internal reviews of the policy, and growing evidence of women’s contributions to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the January 2013 announcement that the combat exclusion would be removed was not entirely expected. For years leading up to the announcement, Congress and the Department of Defense had justified the exclusion as essential to national security. Moreover, less than 12 months before the decision to remove the exclusion, then–Pentagon press secretary George Little announced that although 14,000 new combat related jobs would be opened to women, infantry and direct combat roles would remain off limits.

  • So what did the ‘policy change’ mean and why was it initiated?

Rather than speculate on the rationale and motivations behind the policy about-face, it is more important to understand that by the time it was announced that the combat exclusion would be removed, it no longer existed.
In fact, the announcement to ‘let women fight’ should be seen as a PR stunt rather than a policy change. Here’s why… (more…)

The Ethics of Casual Teaching Contracts: how we are all implicated in selling out academia and exploiting our students

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

For the last few years in particular, there has been a marked increase in the number of sessional, casual, teaching-only, adjunct, fixed term, temporary job ‘opportunities’ listed and circulated in the usual IR job venues. These various titles and categories point to one reality: precarious labor is a permanent reality within academia. The trend has been quantified and well documented: in US in the last 30 years the percentage of positions held by tenured or tenure-track faculty members fell from 56.8% to 35.1%. In an excellent post in the Chronicle, Peter Conn declares “Full-time tenured and tenure-track jobs in the humanities are endangered by half a dozen trends, most of them long-term.” The trend is not new; however, as the race to the bottom with regard to casual labor hits a new low, what is missing from the discussion is (1) the ways that permanent staff reproduce/support casual labor and (2)the myths associated with the ‘opportunity’ of casual labor for PhD students and unemployed academics.

First, let’s talk about the new low. Each casual job posting seems to outline more and more unreasonable and unrealistic requirements: for example, a recent post for a year-long contract asks candidates to teach 8 courses; others ask candidates to teach a range of political science/IR topics that span nearly every sub-field; while others expect individuals to relocate for 4 months, 6 months, or only for the academic year. Universities are capitalizing on the growth of several categories of vulnerable individuals, including poor PhD students who are without scholarship or who have run out of scholarhsip funds, and academics who have been unemployed or underemployed- all desperate for experience and the prospect of a job that might lead to something permanent. Yet this exploitation narrative/depiction of the problem only goes so far. There is a need to reflect on where the accountability lies in relation to precarious labor and what can be done. This requires academics to ponder several questions, including: in what ways are secure tenure and tenure-track positions dependent on precarious/insecure/exploited labor?; what are the ethical obligations of secure staff when it comes to resisting or reacting to the casualization of academic labor?; can/how can those in secure tenure or tenure-track positions work to reverse these trends and/or support those working as precarious labor within the field? Below I list the top 4 myths associated with casual ‘opportunities’ along with the top 4 ways that permanent staff might work to acknowledge and reverse the trend.

4 (of many) Reasons Why the Casual ‘Opportunity’ is a Myth and a Trap (more…)

The Token Woman on Hiring Committees: time for a change

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)
Policies and practices set up to avoid discrimination in the past have a tendency to expire. Remember, ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was originally set up to protect gay service-members within the US forces. Similarly, the often unofficial rule of having one woman on hiring committees has reached its expiry date. Primarily as a result of effective equality and diversity campaigns in the 1980s and early 1990s, many departments instituted either an explicit or informal policy to include ‘at least’ one woman on each hiring committee- usually after finding that most hiring committees included no women, and most hires were men. The result- in many cases- has been that there has been one woman on hiring committees in academia for nearly 3 decades. The problem is that while the number of female PhD graduates increases, and the number of female applicants increases, the lonely- token- woman on the hiring committee remains standard practice at many institutions. Sure, there is evidence that women can be just as sexist as men when it comes to hiring practices; however, there is also evidence that women offer a different perspective than men (particularly in terms of ‘what constitutes-good/real- political science‘). Changing the makeup of hiring committees could be an opportunity to change a hiring culture in academia in which men are not only more likely to be hired, but will also be paid more and promoted faster than their female counterparts.

Let’s focus on tokenism. The one-woman policy constitutes tokenism for at least three reasons:

1. Men make up the ‘starting lineup’ of most hiring committees. Committees always have the essential players: Head or Chair of Department, Head of School or Faculty, and often the most senior faculty member with expertise in the area of the job description- these are almost always professors. We know from extensive research and surveys that male professors outrank female professors across disciplines by a WIDE margin (at Aberystwyth University  just 7.9 per cent of professors are female, for example). That means that the important players on a hiring committee are almost always men. The ‘one woman’ that gets added to the mix is less likely to be a professor or someone in a position of power within the department.

2. (A related, but separate point) Women on committees are more likely to be junior. Since male professors outrank female professors at such a huge margin at most universities, the lonely woman on hiring committees is likely to be junior to the rest of the committee. The power dynamic of 4 senior professors and one junior (or less senior) woman (not an uncommon committee make-up) makes it difficult for the female member to ‘rock the boat’ or express dissent on major decisions (and forget any fantasies of achieving a gender tipping point at which alternative perspectives sway a committee). Moreover, even if the female member disagrees with her committee, she will almost always be outnumbered and outvoted by senior men. This is textbook tokenism.

3. As the gender dynamics in some departments change, the one woman policy becomes (even more) discriminatory. Yes it is true that some departments out there have more than 30% women- and the number is increasing. In an excellent report on women in political science by the Women’s Caucus of the Australian Political Science Association, it was found that the University of Melbourne political science department had 47% women (2011), while the University of Queensland had 39%. In such departments a single woman on a 5-person hiring committee (20%) would mean a disproportionate representation of gender. Or, in other words, it means women are being excluded in a discriminatory fashion in relation to their representation within a department (this is where- numerically- the token woman policy expires).

Hiring and promotion committees are two of the most powerful groups within the university. Ensuring that one woman sits on a hiring committee should be seen as discriminatory, exclusionary, and a means of sustaining the status quo- not progressive and certainly not a sign of gender inclusion. Let the HR revisions begin.


War Rape is Not Declining

The Human Security Report Project (HSR) recently released their 2012 Report. The first chapter on wartime sexual violence makes sweeping conclusions and provocative claims about the nature and rates of sexual violence. The overarching message, and certainly the one picked up by the media is that wartime sexual violence is on the decline. Before taking a closer look at the 5 Myths about sexual violence that HSR seeks to dispel, it is important to put this report in a bit of context.
In case you aren’t familiar with HSR, they have made a name out of making counter-factual hypotheses and offering provocative- if not always accurate- headlines. They revived the ‘war is declining’ headline in 2005- over a decade after most political scientists widely acknowledged that inter-state war was indeed declining (and being replaced with other forms of conflict and political violence). What’s precious about HSR is that their depiction of successful peacekeeping, a global decline in violence, and impending peace in international relations ignores the increase in intra-state violence, political violence, and terrorist activities, as well as research pointing to conflict and violence as the primary influence behind global poverty and evidence that the annual percentage of civilian fatalities perpetrated by non-state actors is on clear, upward trend. Most concerning is that HSR have used the tenuous ‘war decline’ hypothesis as the foundation for numerous other tenuous claims, including that the number of child soldiers has decreased and, now, that sexual violence is decreasing.
In fact, the war decline hypothesis is the absolute only basis upon which HSR lays this claim: “the absolute level of conflict-related sexual violence has decreased…primarily because there has been a global reduction in the number of large-scale armed conflicts. If the number and severity of conflicts decreases, we should—other things being equal—expect a decline in conflict-related sexual violence as well.” Because variables in war are generally pretty constant, comparable, and predictable right?
So let’s consider the misleading “mainstream narratives” and “key myths” about sexual violence according to HSR:
Myth #1: Conflicts with Extreme Sexual Violence are the Exception Rather than the Rule. HSR’s main point here is that there has been undue attention to ‘exceptional cases’ and not enough focus on the conflicts that don’t feature mass sexual violence.
The trouble here is that HSR identify the conflicts in Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Bosnia all as exceptional cases. That seems like a lot of exceptions in a world with decreasing conflicts. Let’s look at a few recent conflicts and see what the sexual violence situation is for a comparison:
The current war in Syria: News sources from CNN to local reports in Lebanon have reported that the Assad regime is using rape as a weapon of war and as a form of torture.
The ongoing violence in Somalia: Jezebel recently featured a report on the ‘soaring’ sexual violence here. The New York Times also noted that members of the Shabab militant group have been using forced marriage as a means to pay fighters (read rape as currency of militants).
Libya‘s civil war: The use of sexual violence as a tool of war was given international attention when Iman al-Obeidi, a Libyan law student, told journalists in Tripoli that she had been kidnapped and gang-raped by national soldiers. Later, Human Rights Watch confirmed cases of Gaddafi soldiers using rape to punish family members of rebels.
Iraq: In this war there we have cases of rape within the US forces as well as an increase in rape domestically. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 30% of US military women are raped and 71% sexually assaulted, and 90% sexually harassed while serving in Iraq. In addition, journalist Anna Badkhen reported that rapes within Iraq began to “increase immediately after the fall of Hussein’s regime” and that there was “evidence that different factions were targeting women.”
So are these simply more exceptions? To what? I dare you to try to list 5 conflicts in the last 20 years that haven’t featured sexual violence. Does it need to be genocidal to matter?
Elisabeth Wood has conducted extensive research examining why some wars feature sexual violence and some don’t and though she does note that some conflicts- like the Palestinian-Israeli wars- have not featured mass rapes. One of her most significant conclusions is that we simply need to do more research in this area. We don’t know that Sierra Leone is the exception and we don’t fully understand why some conflicts (many would argue the minority) do not feature sexual violence.

Myth #2: Claims that Sexual Violence in Wartime is Increasing are Not Based on Evidence
I’m not sure HSR and I disagree here. What I don’t agree with is the idea that advocates are focused on whether rape is increasing or decreasing. Advocates are so busy trying to get ANY data on wartime sexual violence and its impacts that questions of incline and decline don’t matter, and are impossible to corroborate. What we do know is that sexual violence happens in almost every conflict and that there is not enough attention or resources dedicated to this issue. HSR’s report has induced multiple headlines that sexual violence is on the decline. This takes pressure off governments to dedicate resources to sexual violence in war at a time when we have just barely begun to gain positive momentum related to the issue (it has just started to gain attention within international law as a war crime).

Myth #3: Strategic Rape is Less Common than Claimed
This is interesting because we don’t know how common strategic rape was and, again, HSR has NO DATA to support their argument that strategic rape is declining. This is just another random claim they’ve based on their war decline hypothesis. Most extensive research on this topic shows that wartime rape is almost always strategic and rarely random. Chris Coulter’s anthropological analysis in Sierra Leone found that rape was used as a currency in war. My own work reiterated that rape was almost always used strategically by rebel forces. Painting rape as random is another means to detach it from politics. Random rape is viewed as a side-effect of war that is difficult to prevent. Further research on HOW rape is used strategically- not whether the strategy is increasing or declining- is needed in order to create effective measures to prevent it.

Myth #4: The Most Prevalent Form of Sexual Violence in Wartime is Ignored
Finally HSR we agree on something. Except that nothing is new here. IR scholars and the media have largely ignored the prevalence of domestic violence before, during, and after war. I don’t see the value in separating husband-wife rape from soldier-citizen rape. Both indicate an oppressive, unsafe environment and both deserve attention. Myth #5: We are Ignoring Male Victims of Sexual Violence
Another good point by HSR but most of us who do research in the area never believed women were the only victims. Thankfully they actually cite Maria Stern and Maria Batz, who are among the excellent scholars examining male victims of sexual violence.

HSR begins their report by chiding advocates and those who do research on sexual violence for drumming up unsubstantiated catchy headlines on sexual violence. This is both ironic and insulting. Insulting because it assumes that those who work on sexual violence- like me- those who have sat in a room of women, where over 75% of the women have experienced rape- as I have- listening to story after story of rape, forced marriage, and raising children born as a result of rape, it assumes that we are thinking about what would make the best headline, not what are the facts, and not what would help the survivors of sexual violence. This is ironic because those at HSR wrote a  report that has garnered headlines, yet contains not a shred of data- I repeat no evidence- to indicate that sexual violence is declining. Next time you want to drum up some media attention, go to a warzone, hang out with men and women who have been hospitalized after rape, men who are traumatized from being forced to rape during their service, and hold children born as a result of rape. See if you still feel like hypothesizing about rape myths and inspiring decline headlines.

The Sexual Scandal Factor in Military Policy Making

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

Do scandals- particularly the kind that receive international attention- inspire progressive gender policies? While there is no conclusive research on this question, there are indicators that sexual violence scandals may be as important as public opinion or operational changes in influencing policy change in the military (perhaps more so).

My prediction– you can quote me on this- is that the current onslaught of sexual violence scandals in the US military will provide the tipping point needed to remove the combat exclusion. Do I think this is the answer to the problem of one in three female service members facing rape during their service? Absolutely not. Will it be a temporary distraction to a widespread systematic problem? Absolutely- just take a look at some earlier cases.

There is almost no comparative research shedding light on why 14 of the world’s militaries have decided to remove the exclusion. BUT, if you look at each country case by case a startling pattern emerges: major sexual violence scandals rocked many of these countries in the period immediately preceding the removal of the exclusion. For example, New Zealand didn’t officially remove the exclusion until 2001, only a few years after a scathing investigation indicated that 42 sex charges had been laid with the navy within five years. Canada removed the combat exclusion as a result of a Human Rights Tribunal decision in 1989. However, leading up to the decision there were widespread accounts of sexual violence plaguing the services. This culminated in a late 1990s Maclean’s magazine detailed expose on sexual violence, including evidence of multiple rapes at gunpoint and widespread acceptance of sexual harassment. Australia is the latest country to remove the exclusion, making the decision only last September. This policy change came on the heals of the famous “skype scandal,” which saw an Australian Defence Force Academy cadet broadcast, without consent, consensual sex with a fellow cadet. This incident proved to be the tip of the iceberg as evidence of “decades of abuse” continue to come to light in recent reports.

How can one account for an international sex scandal as a contributing factor to major policy changes? What are the implications if some gender policy changes are “shush” policies designed to detract from institutional sexism?

Only time can answer these questions- and tell if my prediction is correct. But with new reports of sexual harassment and violence within the US military emerging almost daily- including headlines declaring “Rape on US bases left unchecked,” and “Why rapists in the military get away with it“- and with the documentary “The Invisible War” drawing international audience’s attention to the problem of rape within the forces, ignoring the problem is no longer an option. Removing the combat exclusion as a distraction from institutionalized and endemic sexual violence would be the right policy for the wrong reason. The problem does not call for adding more women, or allowing women to ‘do more’ within the forces; rather, it requires a change in sexist attitudes and behaviors. This will involve far work than a single policy change.

IR Course Uncovers the Romantic Comedy Foruma

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

My students and I have unlocked the key to writing a blockbuster romantic comedy script. When lecturing on masculinities in my Gender and Human Rights course I gave students the following challenge: think of an stereotypical, ideal-type character that symbolizes one form of hegemonic masculinity. Remembering that hegemonic masculinities are fluid ideal types that vary across history and context,  students came up with answers like “the macho rugby player,” “the workaholic CEO,” “the playboy” and “the quiet, rugged cowboy.” After getting them to list the qualities that define these masculine types, I asked them to imagine a scenario or event that would completely challenge, undermine, or seemingly contradict these masculine identities and to talk about how their immediate community and society might react. Well, the answers produced almost every romantic comedy script you can imagine.
Here are a few examples:
Scenario 1: Rugby player decides to be a stay at home dad
Result: fans and teammates are shocked, hilarity ensues. I think there is an entire sub-category of comedies dedicated to macho men trying to raise babies: “Three Men and a Baby,” “Kindergarten Cop,” Vin Deisel’s “The Babysitter”
Scenario 2: star athlete reveals a secret love of ballet/opera etc, or, more specifically, hockey player reveals a secret love of figure skating
Result: his mates initially ostracize him but end up being impressed with is skills. This is loosely the real plot line of “The Cutting Edge”, a cheesy 90s romantic comedy.
Scenario 3: playboy falls in love
Result: “Crazy, Stupid Love”and a million other romantic comedies premised on the macho main character ‘softening’ as his goofy sidekick ‘hardens’ up- the result is that both find true love.
Scenario 4: Rugged cowboy comes out of the closet
Result: you see where I’m going here.

So what’s the take home message? Romantic comedies could not exist without very specific and stereotypical ideas about masculinity (and femininity). We tend to over-examine the representation of women in popular culture (for good reason) but are less apt at looking at how the construction and unraveling of masculinity is key to almost any Rom Com script. Never mind the fact that there is almost always a great example of complicit masculinity- those characters that do not fit the stereotype of hegemonic masculinity but who benefit from the power structures associated with the identity. Think “Pretty Woman”, where a hardened CEO softens under the spell of employee while his jerk of a partner grapples with the situation. Go on, think of your favorite Rom Coms and spot the hegemonic masculinity/complicit masculinity at play. Have fun.